Florida Panthers Hire Coach Boogieman

As the clock struck 9:01 AM the Florida Panthers’ automated PR machine went into effect. The hiring of San Jose Sharks Defensive coach Bob Boughner was official. Boughner won two Memorial Cups in Windsor with the Spitfires of the OHL, and was coach of the year in the CHL.

Since the hiring of VP of Public Relations, Thomas Drance, the Florida Panthers front office has harnessed trial balloons in the press– much better use of loose lips than last year’s self inflicted wounds. It was Saturday the announcement took place, as Uncle Bob McKenzie sent out the “it’s happening” tweet. Today was just the paperwork.

Despite the Florida Panthers’ underlings being asked to aggressively stamp out any negative feedback on this hiring, I haven’t seen much. But after the calamity of last season, the “Trust us” argument falls flat. Rather, fans should use their own critical thinking skills to put this hiring in context. Let the man coach some games, too, but also verify before trusting.

We’ve talked some positives, or Pros, of this hiring already. Boughner has enjoyed success at the CHL level. But that was six, seven years ago, and after an unsuccessful stint in Columbus as a assistant coach, Boughner went back to his (he actually owns part of the Spits) junior team where success was hard to come by the second time around. That can be argued away though as a post Mem Cup team going through the cyclical nature of Canadian major junior hockey. Then two seasons with Pete Deboer in San Jose suppressing both shots and goals at an elite level.

So what are the Cons? Well, I wouldn’t call them Cons but they are questions/concerns.

Boughner is the second coach in a row hired by the Panthers that has extensive ties to a slumping star. Gerard Gallant was Jonathan Huberdeau’s Memorial Cup winning coach. Boughner has known Ekblad his entire life, as Boughner’s son is friends with Aaron. Florida has a history of hiring people with friend or familiar relations to others in the organization. Hockey has a long history of that type of hiring practice but the Cats take it to a new level. A practice I’d much prefer them to sunset.

Boughner is another first time professional head coach who will, naturally, be using next season as a learning curve. That is not to say they won’t be pushing hard for playoffs but it will be a process of learning. Take the similarities to another level, this is another first time head coach from the CHL ranks with Mem Cup victory, who spent last few seasons as NHL assistant coach. Talk about having a type.

While inexperience and CHL resumes aren’t off-putting to me, it is worth noting that these strings of first time hires also keep the paycheck lower. This must be mentioned, as Florida has missed out on NHL tested coaches before due to dollars and sense (oops, I meant ‘cents’, Freudian slip). With a few NHL veteran coaches on the market, it’s a question that will echo for a while. How much of this decision is dictated by money? For a team whose owner said Money will never be an issue, we sure are asking how much money plays into things a lot.

Boughner is a solid choice, even a good choice–given the situation. Was Phil Housley really going to spurn a bigger paycheck from Buffalo (his rumored landing spot) or spurn Nashville when they are so close to a Cup, for the mess of the Panthers situation? Would Darryl Sutter take a gig on the other end of the country further from his Western Canadian farm to get told what lines to use by AGMs who aren’t terribly qualified? Would Lindy Ruff like to be fired during a hissy fit from an owner on a road trip, needing to find his own ride home?

It must be remembered that these coaching candidates hear the real details of what happened from this person or that person, who actually does know. They aren’t flying blind into this thing. And, to them, they don’t believe in the team or the franchise–they aren’t fans. They see the talent but they aren’t attached to it emotionally. They are calculating, rational. This is their livlihood and it doesn’t matter to them if Borgstrom had a great NCAA season if he can’t trust the owners and front office to leave him be or leave him on the bench long enough to execute his plan. That is a real hurdle.

But we also don’t know much about Boughner. General Manager Dale Tallon laid out exactly what he wanted in a coach in that press conference, what feels like ages ago. A young, progressive coach who is good with young talent and holds players accountable and can get the most out of them every night. You can see how Boughner is one of the available options who checks most of those boxes. But that was just cliches and generalities. What will Boughner set out to accomplish, what can we expect?

Those are questions George Richards (and frankly no one else on the beat will push for these questions, if any one does) needs to ask during the presser.

How is hiring a defensive coach going to help the team in their scoring woes? How does he plan on utilizing the bench? What type of systems does he like to employ? What skillsets does he value? Does he bench his players more? Does he roll lines more? Will he change lines up a lot or let them work their slumps out? What types of Practices does he run? Until all of that is better understood, it is hard to really grade this pick.

There is a palpable sense of disappointment though. The coaching market was not the best it has been recently but boasted a few prime choices: Montgomery, Eakins, Thompson, Keefe, Housley. Those are all names that would have gotten this blog more excited and more hopeful.

But how many were actually candidates? Tough to say given the demands of our ownership group, the reputation they have accrued, and the general history of the franchise.

Ignore the honeymoon hype coming from the Panthers as much as you should ignore the “he has no experience, I wanted [insert dinosaur here]!” twitter peeps.Wait until at least Thanksgiving before a prelim judgement on Boughner is given. What is done to the roster, how much ownership backs off day-to-day, how much power Tallon has will all matter more this next season than the coach.

But never, ever, ever forget that the Florida Panthers fired a coach comparable to Boughner due to an owner’s hissy fit during an early season game against the Carolina Hurricanes just to put his Yes-Man Tom Rowe behind the bench.

However this turns out, the owners wear it.


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